Monday, June 13, 2016

Exploring the National Parks of Germany: Kellerwald-Edersee and Eifel

By Emma Krasov. Photography by Emma Krasov
 
Nationalpark Kellerwald-Edersee in the north-western part of the state of Hessen is a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site, and a part of the larger primeval beech forest massif spread out to the Carpathians Mountains on the territories of Slovakia and Ukraine. The so called “Ancient Beech Forests of Germany” cover more than 50 hills of Kellerwald-Edersee National Park (5738 hectares), creating a green rippling “sea of beeches” under which in the deep shadows of dense leafage no other species of trees can survive.

The purely European phenomenon, beech forests growing on low mountain ranges, and interspersed with clear water streams, provided early humans with shelter, fuel, food, water, and building materials, and served as a habitat for dozens of species of wild animals. Without the impact of humans, the sturdy trees reaching up to 260 years of lifespan, would cover two thirds of the entire country of Germany, but due to the population density and the vigorous consumption of this natural treasure throughout history, only 7% of the prehistoric beech forests remain in Central Europe today.

At national parks, the motto is, “Let nature be nature,” and the new wilderness is now developing on the 90% of the Kellerwald-Edersee area without human interference.
On the map of Hessen, the Kellerwald-Edersee Park looks like a rough triangle with curved sides. The northern border of it is framed by a snake-shaped lake, Edersee, 27 kilometers long, created by the dam across the river Eder. Our group of avid nature lovers started exploring the park and the lake with a visit to an ancient castle, Waldeck, positioned slightly to the north, on a hill overlooking the town of the same name, and the abundant flowing waters of Edersee.

The castle was first built in 1150, and became a residence of the Counts of Waldeck, later turning into military barracks. Now a public property, surrounded by tall trees, and with a view of the lake from a stone terrace, it’s a favorite place for tours led by local guides, and outdoor wedding ceremonies. A quaint 50-year-old cable car at the top of the hill still provides scenic rides in creaky little cars for two passengers over the tree tops to the lakeshore.

Down below, at the small marina, we all got aboard a romantic round trip on the lake, with unparalleled views of the deep blue waters, wooded banks, the impressively high dam, and of course, the Waldeck castle on the hill with its wall crenellations and a round tower under a tin roof.

The most pleasant boat ride included a coffee break with a variety of creamy and fruity cakes – among them the famous Black Forest studded with plump cherries.  
That night, after we walked through the gorgeous primeval forest along a small part of the 70-kilomenter trail Urwaldsteig Edersee to the town, we settled at the Ringhotel Roggenland Waldeck and dined on seasonal white asparagus with various accoutrements, offered by all German eateries this time of year.    
Next morning, after a substantial breakfast included with our hotel stay, our group engaged in a thorough exploration of Kellerwald-Edersee Park with Deputy of National Park Jutta Seuring and an excellent, highly knowledgeable and entertaining Guide of National Park, Rita Wilhelmi 
Rocky slopes with exposed slate, humid canyons with roaring springs, and emerald beech brush under the old whimsically gnarled trunks surrounded our picturesque trail, while we were making our way from the northernmost park gate to the south. Half-way through the enormous park, we had a stopover at the Bathildishuette – a former hunting cottage – as if taken from a Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale.   

Our nap-inducing picnic lunch on a sun-dappled lawn ended up with an arrival of a park’s covered wagon drawn by two docile horses – Fritz and Earl – furthering the fairy tale feel of the place.  
That afternoon, we spent plenty of time at the NationalparkZentrum Kellerwald – the information and visitor center, and a small architectural wonder – containing interactive exhibitions, a unique 4D-SinneKino cinema experience themed on park critters, and a charming GastRaum café with omnipresent masterfully decorated cakes for an obligatory coffee break.
After a supper of white asparagus (of which I personally never tire) with new potatoes and smoked ham, I couldn’t sleep thinking of all the day’s wonders, and excited about the next day promise – wild animals!

Our visit to the WildtierPark Edersee was everything I dreamed about, and more! All kinds of animals, indigenous to the beech forest were housed in spacious enclosures, where several species of the original inhabitants (sometimes extinct, and borrowed from other places, like Canada) regained a place to live. Wolf, lynx, wild cat, European bison, red deer, and wild horse can all be seen at the park today.

A large herd of fallow deer roamed free, and could be approached and even petted. Wild boar with the cutest tiny piglets marked with horizontal lines on their velvety sides, were doing their dirt digging at an arm length.

Then the Raptor Flight Show gathered a crowd by demonstrating catchy tricks performed by golden eagle, Eurasian griffon, and various birds of prey – falcons, hawks, kestrels, vultures, and owls – gliding low over the heads of fascinated spectators.   
I couldn’t abstain from lunching on wild boar skewers at the Bericher Huette park café, trying to stick to the natural environment of the beech forest…
After lunch, we got on a bus, and drove through the bright-yellow fields of rapeseed under the brilliant blue sky to the neighboring state of Nordrhein-Westfalen, to the Nationalpark Eifel whose motto is, “Forest, water, and wilderness.”
Eifel National Park – an area of 11000 hectares housing more than 1800 endangered animal and plant species – has a few distinct features of its own. First of all, Eifel is certified as the first Dark Sky Park in Germany. A famous astronomer, Harald Bardenhagen, presented to our group an entire lecture complete with a film on the dangers of excessive light imposed on Earth by one of the greatest inventions of our civilization – electricity!
Turns out, not all that shines is gold. According to the astronomer, there’s no completely dark sky in Europe anymore, since the dark side of Earth (at night) changed in the last 150 years more than in the preceding 3.5 million years. The light from the big cities, reflected by the clouds, travels for up to 200 kilometers, and interferes with the life of nocturnal animals and plants, and with the circadian rhythms of human beings. Besides that, lighted, gray sky prevents us from seeing stars.
Luckily, Eifel Park has an area of near-complete darkness, where Milky Way can be seen in all its glory, and where the park conducts nighttime star-gazing hikes for its visitors.

Another special feature of Eifel Park is Vogelsang IP [International Place] – a repurposed former Nazi compound located on a hillside area of 100 hectares that was introduced and explained to us by the Eifel Park Communications Manager Michael Lammertz.

Used during World War II as a propaganda center preparing future rulers for the conquered Eastern European countries, the center partially maintains its historical appearance. On the gate towers leading to the main building there are two sculpted reliefs of an “Aryan” warrior on horseback – Eastbound, naked and armed, and returning to the West with bags of war loot from the “inferior” nations. Those plans weren’t going to materialize, as well as the 100-story building that was supposed to be erected over the existing 4-story grim stone structure.
Instead, after the war the site was taken over and used by the British military as a training area, then handed over to the Belgian military, and since 2006 Vogelsang has been used for civilian purposes. The International Place is now transformed into a multifaceted and internationally oriented exhibition, cultural, and educational center as well as conference and meeting place.

After a day of exploration at the Eifel Park, populated by wild cats, beavers, black storks, grey herons, cormorants, and several species of fish in the low mountain streams and shallow pools, our group settled for the night at the Tagungshotel Eifelkern, and had another delightful white asparagus-centered dinner at the Schloss Schleiden restaurant, located in the cellar area of a historic castle.  

The next morning, after a lavish breakfast at the Das Bauerncafe Morsbacher Hof restaurant that included everything from fish, ham and sausage to assorted cheeses, yogurts, and exotic fruit, we were about to discover one more distinct feature of Eifel Park. That was the so-called “barrier-free” nature experience park Wilder Kermeter allowing visitors with disabilities feel more comfortable moving around in the wilderness.

The tactile bronze model of the park and the dam on the river Urft allows the blind to feel the landscape of their whereabouts. There are benches placed 250 meters apart where people who have difficulty walking can sit and rest. All the information boards are printed in large raised type and in Braille and available in audio form. Many trails are wheel-chair accessible, and have disabled restrooms, parking places, and bus stops.

When our group decided to embark on a scenic bicycle ride along the river Urft to the lake Urftsee, with a stop at the bird watching station, I had to regretfully admit that I was a living proof that a childhood skill to ride a bike can be unlearnt… Little did I know that the barrier-free spirit of Eifel Park extended to my case as well. Within minutes, an EifelRAD truck arrived, loaded with bicycles for the entire group, and an amazing construction, called Trimobile for me.    

As the proprietor Uwe Kolke explained to me, the Trimobile was designed for up to four people – two adults and two children. One person is at the handlebars, the other is sitting behind, and both are pedaling, while children can sit in their own chairs just enjoying the ride. When our group tour guide Soeren Hoika kindly agreed to steer and keep the entire thing in balance, I gladly took my place behind him, pedaling with all my might, and as a team we zoomed through the entire 10-kilometer route faster than the rest or our jolly group.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

I Believe in Negroni at Credo

By Emma Krasov, photography by Yuri Krasov
 

Negroni Week, an international event happening in thousands of bars around the world in the beginning of June, and raising money for charitable causes, was widely celebrated in San Francisco the entire last week.

Credo, a unique San Francisco restaurant in the Financial District, participated in the world-wide negroni bonanza with a specially-designed Barrel Aged Negroni cocktail made of smooth, clean and dry Junipero gin, aged in bourbon barrels for six weeks, Carpano Antica vermouth, and the constant main ingredient – Campari.

Classic negroni has only three ingredients, combined in equal parts: Campari, gin, and sweet vermouth. And that’s how Ian Silva, Credo’s General Manager and Beverage Director likes to keep it.

“We don’t change the formula,” says Silva. “You taste Campari first, then gin, then vermouth. But usually negroni is somewhat sharp around the ages. Barrel-aging, during which we add new content to the old, mixing gin to the smoothest possible condition, results in a well-rounded, more harmonious cocktail.”

Hands down, my negroni was truly impressive – from its Campari-induced sunset hue, to its fashionable single giant ice cube, to silky consistency, and a burst of citrusy aroma from an orange peel on top of the glass.

Special appetizers paired with this wonderful negroni demonstrated the restaurant’s commitment to seasonal fresh produce and culinary creativity in implementing California bounty into every dish on the Italian-style menu.

Warm golden fonduta, served in a porcelain cup, made with baked crescenza (soft creamy cheese from Veneto) caramelized onions, mushrooms, and garlic flat bread for dipping perfectly complimented the herbal fragrance of the cocktail with the salty richness of bread and cheese.

Roasted octopus with pepperonata (fried bell peppers), crispy potatoes, radicchio and fried capers also played nicely along the lines of richly flavorful background to the neat tart-and-sweet drink.

While negroni was a shining star of its namesake week, other cocktails produced by Silva’s team of skilled mixologists also deserve plenty of praise. Barrel Aged Manhattan made with Four Roses Bourbon, Carpano Antica, and Angostura bitters is a Manhattan-lover’s dream, according to one of my dining companions.

Kentucky Buck, made with strawberry infused bourbon, lemon, Angostura bitters, and ginger beer, despite its name, is a very lady-like libation, served in a lemonade glass with a lemon wheel and a straw, and rather refreshing and desirable for summer weather.

Credo’s open kitchen, over which the restaurant’s motto, “Feed the People” is prominently displayed, feeds the people exceptionally well. My garganelli pasta with amazingly light and tasteful chicken, prosciutto, and sage meatballs, chopped snap peas, parmesan cream and shaved parmesan, was the best pasta dish I’ve had in months!

One of my dining companions ordered her favorite – an appetizing-looking King salmon with white bean puree, arugula, scallions, and charred tomato vinaigrette.             

Another voted for porchetta – a garlic and herb roasted pork shoulder with farrotto grains, broccoli rabe and cherry marmellata. All of us were supremely satisfied with our choices!

And then there was time for dessert. Yogurt panna cotta with strawberries and mint had subtle vanilla flavor from the real vanilla bean; balsamic reduction dots on a side, and the most delightful strawberries, cut in tiny rounds, and fermented in sugar to reach that enticing slightly alcoholic aftertaste.  

Chocolate ganache tart, served over bourbon caramel sauce, and topped with toasted marshmallow was absolutely heavenly in its dark chocolatey richness and assertive texture. I could’ve had it three times a day, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner! Especially with a cup of Credo’s chosen Graffeo Coffee espresso.   

Credo, whose name comes from the Latin “I believe” uses serious and humorous quotes from various historical figures and celebrities that start with “I believe” as its wall décor. According to Credo proprietor, Clint Reilly, “Our walls depict the universality of ideas, the clash of conflicting viewpoints and the democratic nature of discussion and debate.” Well said, indeed.

Tables, made of creatively recompositioned reclaimed wood (by Dutch craftsman Piet Hein Eek) are usually all occupied at lunch time, and early in the evening.  Hallways and bathrooms are decorated with printed media pages, while the background music combines various revolutionary songs and speeches, adding to the restaurant’s special character.

The service is friendly, efficient, and knowledgeable.
This year’s Negroni Week’s commitment at Credo is to donate $1 of each negroni to the Marine Mammal Center, the restaurant’s June Community Partner. At Credo, community involvement is not a peripheral action; it’s a central element to the business model. The establishment actively seeks to reinvest in the community through direct action, charitable giving, and long-term partnerships with organizations that share its goals and aspirations.  

Credo is located at 360 Pine Street, San Francisco, California. Call for reservations 415-693-0360 or visit www.credosf.com.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Pacific Catch San Francisco Features Fresh Hawaiian Fish from Honolulu Fish Auction

By Emma Krasov, photography by Yuri Krasov

 
 
With seasonal, regional, and other interesting specials dished out by the efficient kitchen on any given night, it’s safe to say that the renowned San Francisco Bay Area restaurant chain Pacific Catch Fresh Fish Grill will never run out of enticing options.

The Pacific Catch outpost on 9th Avenue in San Francisco has a few notable added bonuses. Those are: excellent friendly service, quaint historical Inner Sunset location, and the eatery’s own parking, which is a no small feat in our beloved City by the Bay.

 On the island cuisine-centric menu there are crowd pleasing staples, like signature poke dishes, with a changing assortment of Hawaiian fish and creative garnishes; island tacos, showcasing a variety of fillings from cod, shrimp, and mahi mahi to spiced chicken and marinated steak; sushi rolls, and increasingly popular rice bowls with Japanese, Korean, Thai, and Hawaiian contents over white or brown rice. However, besides the regular fare, on any given night there’s always a special menu of freshly flown-in fish, Chalkboard Specials, and In-Season vegetable sides.  

The full bar menu offers a wide selection of handcrafted, seasonal cocktails, a curated beer selection, and Pacific region wine. On a recent visit, my dining companion and I shared three seasonal cocktails – Spicy Strawberry Margarita (strawberry, serrano infused reposado tequila lime, agave nectar); Blueberry Mint Julep (blueberry infused Maker’s Mark, mint, lime, house-made honey syrup); and Strawberry Rhubarb Martini (Tito’s vodka, strawberry, rhubarb, lime, turbinado syrup) – each one better than the next.

A special starter of Aku Sashimi Tataki (skipjack tuna), lightly seared with avocado, green onions spicy daikon, ginger, and ponzu sauce looked very picturesque, and tasted even better – this unique species of tuna turning out to be quite meaty, with mild yet distinct flavor.

A half-bowl of Japanese Wasabi with hand-picked Dungeness crab salad included seaweed salad, avocado, daikon, ginger, sesame seeds, shredded nori, and soy-wasabi sauce. It was a delightful combination of tastes and textures over nutty brown rice, topped with micro greens for added freshness.

A special entrée of Grilled Opah (moonfish) with pineapple fried rice, shrimp, sweet peppers, blistered green beans, pork, garlic and chili was garnished with a slice of grilled pineapple, creating a palette of flavors from salty and sweet to mild and spicy, all harmoniously blended on the same plate.   

Another interesting special, Monchong (pomfret) with chubby Shanghai noodles, bean sprouts, choy sum, pickled peppers and sunny side egg was new to me – I’ve never tried pomfret before. The fish yielded a nice size filet with firm white flesh, pleasant mild taste, and played out nicely with the garnishes, especially the lightly spiced noodles.  

The special menu desserts included the most amazing new dish – Mexican Hot Chocolate Custard with burnt sugar crust. Kind of like crème-brulee, but with a much bolder chocolate profile and lasting impression.

The usual desserts include chocolate, vanilla, and coffee mochi ice cream with dark chocolate dipping sauce, and a variety of regular ice cream flavors from fine local producers.

These special menu items have been created by Pacific Catch's Executive Chef David Gingrass.
"I have selected five different species that are unique, delicious and presented with preparations that highlight each fish," said Chef Gingrass about this particular springtime menu of Hawaiian fish specials. Currently, the Pacific Catch’s summer menu includes other wonderful surprises for the first-times and regulars alike.

The restaurant’s success stems from the talent and dedication of the industry veterans Aaron Noveshen and Keith Cox who founded Pacific Catch in 2003, debuting on Chestnut Street in San Francisco. They have subsequently opened Pacific Catch restaurants in the Corte Madera Town Center in Marin County, 9th Avenue in San Francisco’s Inner Sunset district, The Pruneyard in Campbell, Third Street in San Mateo, The Village at San Antonio Center in Mountain View and Persimmon Place in Dublin.

The Pacific Catch described here, is located at 1200 9th Avenue, San Francisco, California. For more information visit www.pacificcatch.com.